Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Q & A: Staying Grounded While Wedding Planning

Reader Question: Here's my issue: No matter how much I change my mind, switch things up, re-budget the plan, it all still ends up costing a fortune!!! (Fortune for me being around 7k, which I know is still about HALF of what a lot of budget brides spend.)

I just find that there's always someone who says you CAN'T do it like that or you HAVE to do it this way. I'm tired of saying I don't have to do anything any way you want and &^%%#&&%$#!!!! I'm literally starting to scare myself with how worked up this wedding has gotten me. And I'm the kind of person who can throw a dinner party in two days.

I want it to be great, wonderful, everything I've ever imagined. But I cannot justify spending all my hard earned--and my parents'--money on one damn day. How did you manage to always keep yourself grounded? How did you decide what factors were most important, and most of all, where did you get so many thrifty ideas?

Wow! There is a lot going on in your message! I'll try to make sure I respond to the different components.

It all still ends up costing a fortune: Yeah, planning a big event is tricky. Anyone who plans events for a living knows that things add up. It's always bothered me, though, when we end up paying more to host a wedding than we do other big events. Weddings are important in that they commemorate a lifetime commitment. But why does that mean they have to cost more money? Why is money the default way to make something meaningful and memorable?

I wonder if you can revisit your budget and cut out things entirely. There may be things in your budget that are there because other people think they should be or because you think that other people think they should be or because you've just always thought that's what a wedding included. I can't predict what those things might be for you, since each of us has different priorities.

For example, my friend, Camella, cut out ceremony programs entirely. Another friend, Maia, said she wished she would have cut out programs (which would have saved her about $400) because, in the end, she didn't think they contributed much to the experience.

Matt and I didn't want to cut out programs, but we were comfortable cutting out other things: professional photography (which we assigned to three different friends and asked everyone else to upload their photos to flickr), flowers (a friend of mine made a bouquet for me from wild flowers since I really wanted something to hold during the ceremony since I always feel awkward during public speaking), centerpieces, cake toppers, new jewelry/shoes, professional hair/makeup stylist, Save the Dates (we sent an e-mail or called), a single big fancy cake, a day-of coordinator, and a DJ.

Cutting out all of these things was necessary for Matt and me because we had such a stringent budget. For the most part, we didn't mind making the cuts because--for us--none of those things was connected to making the event meaningful or memorable.

Because every couple has different budgets and priorities, the decision to cut out or cut back will look different. I'm wondering, however, if you might be able to take yet another look at your budget through the lens of what you can cut out or cut back.

There's always someone who says you CAN'T do it like that or you HAVE to do it this way. Yes, unfortunately. And to those people I say, "Go plan your own wedding" or "You already had your chance to plan a wedding." I didn't actually say it that way, but that was definitely my attitude. In frustrates me when everyone and their mothers think that planning your wedding is a team sport that's open to everyone. You and your fiance decide whose input matters. It's your wedding, and your family and friends should respect your desire to craft a wedding that represents you and your fiance, not them.

How did you manage to always keep yourself grounded? I didn't--just for the record--always keep myself grounded. Matt and I had a lot of stressful things going on in our life during our wedding planning process (buying a home, moving a thousand miles to a new city, finding new jobs, getting a dog) and it was tough. We got into plenty of disagreements. I would also find myself staring longingly at other people's wedding porn and wishing we had more money for centerpieces or photo stamps or vintage salt-and-paper shaker caketoppers. I just had to put mechanisms in place for helping me re-ground myself as necessary (namely shutting my damn computer and reminding myself that we could have the wedding of our dreams for a mere $2,000 and that regardless of what happened we would be happily married in the end and that even if our self-catering experiment completely flopped we would at least have time to authentically connect with all of our friends and family). You can find a few other ideas for nurturing your relationship while wedding planning here.

How did you decide what factors were most important? From the beginning, we knew that we wanted our wedding to feel more like a family/friends reunion than a traditional wedding. We wanted it to focus on community, connection, commitment, and fun. Every time we had to make a budget decision, we would ask ourselves whether the particular item in question would honestly make the wedding more focused on community, connection, commitment, or fun.

Where did you get so many thrifty ideas? The internet! There are so many wonderful, crafty, ingenious people out there sharing their ideas. Reading other peoples' ideas inspired me to modify them and generate my own ideas.

I wish you the best during your wedding planning process! The planning period is much longer than the actual wedding (in most cases), so I think we should try to enjoy it as much as possible!

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Anonymous said...

wonderful post... thank you so much... I am finding it so hard to justify the amount of money that goes into this day. All my fiance and I really want is a celebration joining all of our family and friends together for a great party. It sounds so easy but someone, somewhere always has to damper the mood. grr - so frustrating. Your post was very uplifting and comforting, thank you!

Anonymous said...

Man can I feel the pain with this reader! It's hard to do everything under a budget. This is why my engagement is ending up so long, because finding bargains takes time. And getting the confidence to DIY took time, for me anyway. Some elements you really can find cheap, but in a big city for instance (like Houston) it's hard.
We though about just using an IPOD DJ, although I wasn't 100% confident on how it would work, we ended up finding a DJ for around $300 by asking around.
I'm also DIYing invitations which I never in a million years thought I would be able to do. But I designed them myself using a FREE trial of photoshop and ordered bulk cardstock/envelopes off the internet.

As far as people's opinions...well yes, some people will always tell you you can't do it for that price, and some people will be really encouraging. Talk ideas with the encouraging one, send the non believers and invite.

Sorry that was so long, I just know how frustrating it can be!

Lee said...

I can relate to your reader's feelings. My husband and I worked so hard on planning our wedding, and of course it was very frustrating at times. We spent time meeting with our officiant and communicating about our ceremony, and selecting readings that were meaningful to us. But the majority of our time and stressed-out moments were spent planning the reception.

What I didn't anticipate was just how powerful and wonderful the ceremony would be, and how the reception would just seem like a bonus after that. What really made our wedding wonderful was the people surrounding us and the commitment we made to each other, which wasn't anything we could have designed or purchased.

Marina said...

I think it's really difficult to do a Wedding on a budget, because for a wedding you need flowers and extra special clothes and a professional photographer and dinner and alcohol and dancing all night.

But you don't need any of those things to get married, or to have a great party with your loved ones. My budget is hovering around $8000, which feels extravagant to me, but I'm not doing most of the things mentioned above, and the ones I am doing (extra special clothes) I found outside of the WIC. I'm guessing that on the day of, strangers would have to look pretty hard for pretty long before realizing it's a wedding and not just a family reunion or something.

I think there are a lot of people who have pretty specific images in their head of what they want their wedding to look like, which is awesome and I think they should totally go for it if that's what they really want. But just in terms of a reality check, I think it's very, very, very difficult to have the kind of party everyone recognizes as a Wedding on a small budget. If a small budget is your top goal, you're probably going to need to just get married and have a fun and simple party instead. I totally agree with what you said, Sara, about how planning any other party doesn't cost as much as a wedding, and the most helpful thing I've done for my budget was to not even start with the wedding mental image, but start with the party mental image.

Anonymous said...

I can 100% identify! As an events manager, I've planned lots of other events, but the level of stress that the emotional nature of a wedding causes was something I totally wasn't expecting. Our budget is $10,000- (as in, we're really trying to shave as much off that number as possible, not add to it...right now we're at about $8000 and falling!), which sounds like a lot of money until you make it a "Wedding" budget. It seems like no matter what your wedding budget is, there's always another wedding that has something you would "LOVE to have, if only..." I have had so many friends tell me "Oh, just be prepared to blow your budget -- nobody can stick to their budget when the wedding gets closer." Thanks for being proof that, yes, you CAN stick to your budget, and be just as happily (dare I say probably more happily) married at the end of the day as the people who blew up their already large budget right before their wedding adding things they "had" to have!

Anonymous said...

I can totally relate to this post! Sticking to a budget is difficult, even more so when there's more than a few people's $$ involved (for us, it's my parents). Sara, I know you and Matt solved this problem by paying for the wedding yourselves. For those of you who are accepting financial help, how did you handle competing ideas of what budget items should/should not be prioritized?

For example, a typical conversation with my mom goes like this:

Me: I don't really want flower centerpieces. They're too expensive, and I think they're wasteful.

Mom: You HAVE to have flowers as centerpieces!

Me: Why? They're not necessary. People will still have a good time if there are no centerpieces.

Mom: Well, I'm paying for the flowers, so you're getting them.

Geez! We are so grateful for my parents' help with the wedding, both financially and otherwise, but how do you handle conflicts like these without picking a huge fight over something ultimately insignificant, such as flower centerpieces? Any ideas?

diana said...

I too can totally relate. My fiance and I initially set a $6000 budget. That did not include the honeymoon or rings. But when we considered that one of us will be moving (we are long distance right now), student loans, and buying a house, we just had a lot of difficulty justifying spending that much money on one day. Especially since I was having such difficulty planning a more relaxed wedding with a lot of DIY elements. I had a lot of difficulty finding a venue that would allow us to self-cater, even partially. We both have huge extended families and cutting the list down was not going to happen easily.

We've decided to have a small, intimate ceremony with only immediate family with dinner after wards.

I wish that I was able to find a place to hold our wedding where we could self-cater and let go of the WIC view of a wedding. I'm just so bad at planning stuff like this.

MorganRae said...

I am getting married in June, and I don't have much of a budget myself. My father also said whatever you don't spend you can have for a downpayment on a house. Which is good. So I sat down and wrote a realistic budget and what I could cut. I am saving so much! But I am doing a lot of things myself and I am saving a lot of money by having a backyard wedding. So i think you do have to compromise, some things, but then again it should be about your marriage and not the wedding. We are having about 100 people attend My wedding is pretty much exactly how I want it. I will tell you it will end up roughly costing around 4,000. I did choose to have photography though. So my big spending is photography, food, and decorations.

Anonymous said...

haha. when everyone has something to say about my ideas, or to input their own (unwanted) thoughts regarding my choices, i simply respond "oh, that's a good idea. maybe you can use it for your wedding." it doesn't come across as bitchy, but it gets the point across. hey, if they're rallying for an idea so much, by all means, they can have it for their own nuptuals.

btw, i also read in Bridal Bargains that if you approach a caterer for a "family function" isntead of a wedding, they generally offer up a longer and less expensive menu from which to choose.

Anonymous said...

oh, and FW Girl...my in laws are AMAZING. as long as i keep them updated on what i'm spending their money on, their ok. the only thing they want a say in is the dinner. they want a sit down (because his normally really laid back dad) doesn't want to stand in line. i didn't want the stuffiness of a table chart, so we divised a plan: we'll have 2 smaller entrees on every plate, so people can sit where the want and we won't have to worry about it.

And about the flowers, if it were me, I'd tell your mom that you're not accepting her money for the flowers; so therefore she's not paying for them and you don't have to have them. Or, you could compromise and do like me; i'm putting flowers on every other table to save costs.

Marina said...

FW girl: in terms of discussing financials with the people who are paying for them, I've found it most helpful to not talk about the money, but to talk about what it means. If you want a simple occasion and centerpieces feel too extravagant for the feel you want, I think that comes across as a different issue than "I don't want to take your money", you know?

Anonymous said...

We're trying to stick within a $6000 budget and finding it extremely challenging! Some of the things we are doing -

* Found a venue in park so we avoid decorating costs. Should also make for pretty pictures. And lots of stuff for guests to walk around and look at/do (paddle boats, woohoo!), so we don't really need to do a cocktail hour to kill time between ceremony and reception. Ceremony in park's amphitheater, reception in private park building.

* Venue allows us to bring in any licensed caterer so we did some serious shopping around to find good food at a good price.

* Caterer's price includes all linens, china and set-up/take-down.

* Friday evening wedding.

* Using cheesecakes as table centerpieces. Mom found cake stands on clearance for $5 each. Afterwards, we'll give the stands to close family members/bridal party as gifts.

* The cheesecake delivery/set up/pre-slicing is free. Each table will have a different variety of cake, encouraging our guests to mingle. Also, the Cheesecake Factory is where we had our first date so this is very personal to us and will be a fun story to share with our guests.

* Bought my wedding dress online for $375. The cheapest I found it in a bridal store was $1200.

* Found a hotel willing to provide free shuttle service to the wedding venue for guests, so our out of town guests won't have the added cost of renting a car - or added stress of getting lost! Oh, and we don't have to foot the bill, the hotel is including it as part of our room block!

* Ordering flowers in bulk online and the gals and I will put them together the night before.

*DIY invites, costing $1 each, but anything else similar that I priced through a vendor started at $6 each!

* Non-pro photographer. FI has a cousin who went to college for photojournalism. She's doing it all for us for $300! We'll also ask guests to upload their own pics.

It feels like there's a million things we've done to keep costs down, but those are a few that jump to mind!

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